I’ve said it before that despite its reputation, it’s actually hard to find great food on Federal Hill aside from a few restaurants. Luckily, a relatively new addition to Federal Hill in Providence, makes me eat those words (pun intended)! A friend who ate at Enoteca Umberto before suggested that my wife and I meet her there for dinner with her husband. She made us a reservation at this tiny Italian restaurant that specializes in wine and I had my first meal at Enoteca Umberto. The night was a lot of fun due to an overindulgence in Southern Italian comfort food, wine, and talking with the friendly owner. My only regret is that due to the dim lighting and my limited phone camera, the pictures do not do the food justice. I would love to return for another meal with a better camera and some more light to really capture the delicious dishes.
256 Atwells Ave
Providence, RI 02903
Service and Atmosphere
Enoteca Umberto is a very small restaurant with limited seating, so a reservation is strongly recommended. The small eatery has a very modern look with its contemporary style, but feels very much like a classic Italian restaurant with the close quarters seating. There is enough privacy for a group of people to keep to themselves, but it’s also easy to converse with neighbors if you’re feeling especially sociable. Probably the best part of Enoteca Umberto is the service. Umberto Bellini, the co-owner, waits on many of the tables and chats up the customers while his fiance and head chef, Lia Labbadia, rules the kitchen. His passion for the food he serves with the help of his family comes across as he describes the menu and the specials for that day. His boisterous and loud nature make you feel welcome while the tiny restaurant struggles to contain his personality. He’s a Rhode Island local, but he has the soul and heritage of a Southern Italian man.
The food at Enoteca Umberto is inspired by Southern Italian cuisine, which features simple ingredients like olive oil, lemon, fresh tomatoes, and hard cheeses with the exception of very soft fresh mozzarella. At first glance, the dishes may just seem like ordinary comfort food, but the expert preparation turns them into works of art. There is also an extensive wine menu that offers a wine for any occasion or food paring. In order to try a wider variety of items from the menu we all decided to share a bunch of dishes along with a bottle of wine. The following smorgasbord is what ensued…
Bruchette – Fig, Gorgonzola, and Prosciutto: The first item that we ordered and that came out to us was probably my personal favorite of the night. It was a dried fig on top of prosciutto sitting over Gorgonzola smeared crusty bread that is drizzled with honey. The flavor combinations of the sweet fig and honey with the salty prosciutto marred perfectly with the Gorgonzola as the mediator between the flavors. If you’ve never tried figs with cheese or this combination of salty-sweet, then this is the way to do it!
Insalate – Arugula and Fresh Mozzarella: As a failed nod towards healthier eating, we ordered a special that combined the arugula salad on the menu with a huge mound of fresh mozzarella. The arugula dressed with olive oil and lemon was delicious, but honestly, it was an afterthought compared to that delicious mozzarella!
Freselle – Pomodoro: This dish was all about the fresh tomatoes dressed with olive oil, seal salt, and oregano sitting on top of a twice-baked Southern Italian bread. It’s such a simple dish, but the freshness of the simple ingredients made for a truly refreshing experience.
Antipasti – La Collina: Whenever I go out with my wife to a restaurant that offers a charcuterie/salumi plate or a cheeese plate, we end up weighing the pros and cons of each one. She wants the cheese a bit more and I always want the sliced meats a bit more, but in the end the same compromise is reached where we order some combination of the two. Enoteca Umberto offers a taste of both their cheese and salumi offerings in the La Collina, which features three kinds of sliced Italian deli meats, two kinds of hard cheese drizzled with honey, three kinds of olives, dried figs, and some olive oil biscuits. The various delicious combinations one can create from the plate really make it a bargain to share with friends.
Pasta Three Ways – Pomodoro, Chick Peas, and Spicy Pig Jowl: At the beginning of the meal, when our eyes were still larger than our bellies, we ordered all three pasta specials to share. The first dish was a simple pomodoro (tomato based) pasta. The second was a mix of chickpeas with olive oil, Parmesan, and other seasonings. The last, but not least was covered in a spicy red sauce made from rendered pig jowl and topped with ricotta. The great part about the pasta was that the different sauces were all served over the same style of noodle. That allowed us to easily compare the flavors and pick our favorites. While it was hard to pinpoint one favorite from the perfectly cooked al dente pasta dishes, we all managed to find one. The variety allows for people with different palates to find something they love. I honestly thought that I would love the spicy pig jowl pasta, but as it turned out, the simple pomodoro was my favorite. Both were delicious, of course, but that’s the beauty of trying a restaurant like this and getting surprised by trying a variety of items.
Dessert – Pizzelle with Whipped Cream and Blood Orange Marmalade: By the end of the meal, we were stuffed. One of our friends was actually in pain from his inability to stop himself from trying everything and I had thrown in the towel as I hit my limit. Nonetheless, the ladies put the men to shame by insisting that we try at least one dessert. We picked the lightest thing we could from the desserts that night. It was pizzelles (really thin waffle-style cookie/cracker) used to make a sandwich of whipped cream and topped with some blood orange marmalade. It was a really simple dessert that delivered just the right amount of sweetness to a big Italian meal.
If you haven’t tried this somewhat new addition to Providence’s Federal Hill, I highly recommend a visit as soon as you can. If you’ve been there before, you’ve probably already decided to return. Be sure to make a reservation and say, “hi,” to Umberto as he explains the Southern Italian menu of the day in his passionately boisterous way. Enoteca Umberto offers high end Southern Italian comfort food at an affordable price.